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Project Loon won't blind radio telescopes

Google notices astronomy

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The Register is pleased to reveal that Google has heard of radio-astronomy, and will work with astronomers to avoid flashing its broadband balloon radios in their sky-eyes.

Project Loon is an ambitious plan to attach 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz radio sets to meteorological-style balloons, lifting the transceivers above air traffic lanes and using high-altitude air currents for steering. The radios should be recoverable when the balloons return to the ground to help keep the project costs down.

However, some of the frequencies of interest to Google are also of interest to the kinds of people who are trying to find the earliest proto-galaxies, the source of all life and the reason Americans paint their barns red (courtesy of The Smithsonian, here).

If someone carelessly sprays broadband radio frequencies over those that the radio-astronomers are trying to observe – including the 2.4 GHz spectrum – observations aren't useful. You can't see a distant galaxy whose emissions, when they reach Earth, give off less electricity than a mosquito's, if there's a transmitter shouting in your field of vision.

Although The Register's hasn't heard from Google, we're pleased to say that the Chocolate Factory wants to try and work out a solution to the problem.

A Google engineer has made contact with Dr Brad Tucker, who first alerted The Register to the problem, saying the engineers are “slightly horrified by the possibility that we might be disrupting science”.

With a little collaboration, Google will be able to identify locations where Loon balloons might interfere with radio astronomy, and shut the radios down until they're out of range.

Certainly that's the kind of outcome Dr Tucker hopes for. He told The Register most astronomers would hope to see Project Loon succeed, and that it's certainly possible "for us all to play nice together."

The Register offered Google the opportunity to comment directly. ®

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